Canton Repository

March 28, 2006

Regula says clinic could lose funding

By Paul M. Krawzak Copley
WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula warned Monday that the Canton Community Clinic, which serves the poor, could jeopardize future federal funding if it follows through with controversial plans to move from the city’s east side to a building on 30th Street NW.

“I only know that the grants are predicated on their serving an indigent population,” Regula said. “It would seem to me that there would be some concern that by moving it away from the population center that it’s designed to serve, it might not meet the federal guidelines.”

The clinic’s board of directors has signaled its plan to move from a medically underserved area on the east side of Canton, its site for the past 13 years. The proposed new location is in a building at 1431 30th St. NW owned by Guy Cecchini, who resigned as chairman of the board March 2.

“I think it’s a mistake to move that center, because it’s where the people are, and that’s what it’s designed for,” Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said Monday.

Mayor Janet Weir Creighton and former Mayor Richard Watkins, who was instrumental in founding the clinic in 1993 at 1950 Tuscarawas St. E, both said Monday that they adamantly oppose moving the clinic and its main offices to 30th Street.

“I like it where it’s at, that’s where we established it, and that’s where I think it ought to be kept,” Watkins said.

The clinic is officially named the Richard D. Watkins Canton Community Clinic. More space is needed to accommodate more patients, Cecchini said. As a federally qualified community health center, the clinic can accept Medicare patients.

Councilwoman Kelly Zachary, D-4, worries that the clinic will either close its current location or reduce the hours. Councilman Thomas West, D-2, has said that Clinic Director Eric Riley told him the clinic plans to maintain its existing site.

West also said it’s “crucial” the city has access to a health-care clinic “throughout the entire community.”

Riley, however, has not returned repeated phone calls from The Repository for more than two weeks. He was out of town at a clinic-related conference, but his secretary said he checks his messages daily.

FEDERAL FUNDING

Regula deployed his clout as a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee to steer a $621,000 federal grant to the clinic to expand its medical services to people who cannot afford insurance or to seek care at emergency rooms. Regula said he’s concerned “the population this is designed to serve will have much more difficulty reaching the facility (at the new location) than it would where it is.”

Supporters of the move say bus service is available to the 30th Street site. Other charities that serve poor residents also are located nearby, West said.

As a designated federally qualified health center, the clinic could expect to receive fairly stable federal funding in future years unless it abandons the conditions of its grant, possibly including a move, Regula and federal officials said.

Though Regula opposes the move, he said he isn’t applying pressure to the board to keep the clinic where it is.

“Boards make decisions,” he said. “I’m involved in a lot of different things in the community and don’t think it’s my role to go out and try to tell boards what to do. But obviously they would have some idea of my feeling, particularly after you write this story.”

Regula was critical of the clinic for failing to respond to reporters seeking information about the move. Riley has not provided public records requested by the newspaper more than three weeks ago.

“I don’t understand that,” Regula said. “I think it’s getting public money. Not just the federal, but some city. And I think they should disclose. Absolutely. They should disclose everything if it’s public money.”

Creighton and Watkins also said the clinic should be open with records pertaining to the board, budget and its overall operations. The city has given the clinic more than $2 million in grant funds since opening in 1994, Creighton said.

“We are distressed there has been no public discussion,” Creighton said at Monday night’s council meeting.

West said that Riley eventually “will be here to respond to people’s questions.”

Creighton said she had trouble getting a list of board members from the clinic Monday.

FISHER SPEAKS OUT

At Monday night’s council meeting, Robert Fisher, the former city service director and budget director, said the clinic should stay put, and asked the city to oppose the move.

“The clinic was not just put there by mistake,” Fisher said, adding that late Councilman Charles Ede pushed for a clinic on the east side.

“I think Charles Ede is turning over in his grave,” Fisher said after the council meeting.

Repository staff writer Ed Balint contributed to this story.